Bicycle Face: An Affliction Common to Bicyclists [From BA 42-500]

Best of Boneshaker Bicycle Face

"It is claimed that over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted 'bicycle face.'"

from BA 42-500

From The Literary Digest, September 7, 1895

Warning against excessive indulgence in “wheeling” will perhaps be heeded more on account of the discovery of the alleged “bicycle face” by English medical papers. It is claimed that over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted “bicycle face.” Wheelmen and wheelwomen indignantly deny the reality of this alleged peculiarity of physiognomy, but the talk about the “bicycle face” has gained considerable currency and given rise to grave discussion concerning the causes and remedies of the phenomenon.

The Springfield Republican, which says that in almost any company of wheelers the “face” can be seen, and which describes one type of it as “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness,” utters the following words of caution:

“Bicycling can very easily be made as violent an exercise as running, and yet men and women who would no more think of running a mile at the top of their speed than of flying will unthinkingly use as much strength and nervous force in fast riding or hill-climbing on their wheels, and wonder why they are so tired after it. The expenditure of energy which some inexperienced riders indulge in, in what may seem to them only a short ride, is nothing short of recklessness, and is almost certain to be followed by consequences more or less serious. Especially is this over-exertion foolish in hot weather when the strain on the nervous system to resist the enervating effect of the heat is great, and any fatigue is doubly exhausting to those not in proper training for it. It is not uncommon to see untrained boys and young women undertake tasks on their bicycles that an experienced track rider would refuse unless he was in good condition. It is doubtful if one bicycle rider in ten is in condition for hard riding, and when women, girls, and middle-aged men are included, the proportion of those who are under bonds by their condition of health and strength to ride moderately is undoubtedly much greater. No better exercise has been discovered than bicycling when tempered with good sense and moderation, but none has much greater dangers when foolishly used or abused.”

Accepting the physical explanations of the “bicycle face,” The Christian Intelligencer goes on to point out another reason which it regrets to see entirely ignored. It says:

“Is it not possible that the law of the Decalog is binding upon bicyclists as well as upon other people, and an habitual violation of the law of the Sabbath may result in the worn, weary, and exhausted face called the bicycle face? Doctors have fallen in with the unbelief and recklessness of the times, and do not insist in their spoken and written words upon the need of one day of rest in every seven days, and they look for the cause of the bicycle face in something besides the customary Sunday runs.

“The act is greatly to be deplored that throughout the United States the wheelmen are putting forth a mighty influence against the observance of the Lord’s day as a day of rest and worship. Christianity is largely dependent upon a proper observance of the Sabbath. The bicyclists are doing much to destroy the Sabbath, and at the same time are injuring their own bodies and souls. The ‘bicycle face,’ indicating extreme weariness and exhaustion, due to the severe strain of violent exercise on seven days of the week, will be followed, as surely as the Decalog is the law of God, with moral weariness and exhaustion in the wheelmen and in those influenced by them.”

On the other hand, The Boston Advertiser is of the opinion that the facts are perverted in this talk about the bicycle face. It says:

“So far as there is any truth in the talk, pretty much the same might be said of all other kinds of recreation. It has long been a proverb that the members of the Anglo-Saxon race ‘take their pleasure sadly.’ It is no doubt true that a bicycle rider can not give himself up absolutely to thoughtlessness, as one may who is riding in a carriage which somebody else is driving; but thoughtfulness is not painfulness, tho some people seem to think it is. In truth, one of the greatest sources of benefit to health arising from bicycling is no doubt that the rider must give some slight, but unremitting attention to his machine and his road.”

The Providence Journal rather likes the “bicycle face.” It says:

“The ‘bicycle face,’ which seems to worry some people so much, is undoubtedly a reality and not a mere product of the imagination, and it is perhaps not so pleasing to behold as the smiling vacuity of expression which in society passes for a sign of affability and an indication that the person wearing it is enjoying himself. But he isn’t always, whereas the bicycle rider invariably is, even tho he may not look so. Besides, the bicycle face, it will be observed, makes up in healthiness of color what it may lack in softness of line.” 

Evan P. Schneider